PYM Document dump: Budget Details at Last! (Plus: Deja Vu All Over Again . . .)

With an appropriately self-mocking headline, Have you heard about the proposed PYM Budget? PYM Clerk Tom Swain finally joined the fray and uploaded a bunch of documents Thursday to the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting website.

The disclosure is good. The timing, not to put too fine a point on it, stinks.

A memo from General Secretary Arthur Larrabee dated March 17 (three weeks ago), and included with the budget, says, in part, that the budget shows:

d. We are proposing to balance the budget this year by making necessary cuts and not by other means such as adding an administrative fee or using onetime only transfers.
e. We are actually signaling to the meetings and members that we no longer do business as usual.
f. We will be undertaking a discernment process about the Yearly Meeting’s future and what should be the work of staff.

In other words, this budget is intended to mark a drastic change in structure and direction for PYM.

But the Friends at large who are to deliberate on it didn’t get a look at the numbers and the details until 48 hours before they’re supposed to take action.

What is this, The PATRIOT Act, that Congress votes on without even getting a chance to read?

I hope there are some pointed questions about this “process.” But we won’t linger on that. Let’s glance quickly at some numbers.

This will not be a summary of the whole budget; read the documents for that.

Here are two key figures:

Total budget decrease from last year: $800,537 -14%
Total decrease from 2009 Budget: $1087,332 -18%

So the talk about closing a “million dollar gap” is correct or not quite, depending on what year it’s compared to.

As to the human impact, Larrabee’s memo continues:

In order to create a budget that is sustainable in future years [i.e., not using mechanisms that cannot be repeated in succeeding years], the budget includes:
1. Total staffing [full‐time equivalents] of 29.7, approximately 25% less than the current budgeted 40.4. The budget assumes no cost of living increase, but does provide for estimated increases in retirement and benefit costs. Also included are one time severance costs, partially offset by depletion of the personnel reserve.
2. An acceleration of the release of designations. The funds scheduled for release in 2013 and 2014 will be released at the start of the next fiscal year. This also reduces administrative fees since they will no longer be collected from these funds.
3. Members increasing participation in Yearly Meeting programs where opportunity for member involvement already exists, such as the library, Arch Street interpretation, youth programs, and others. A “Member Participation Coordinator” would seem
necessary.
4. Keeping the Annual Fund goal at $450,000 [the average of the past three years] and the covenant at the current level of $1,300,000 [also the average of the past three
years]

{Emphasis added.}

Okay, a bit of unpacking: The total number of staff is being chopped by one-quarter, or 10.7 fulltime positions from 40.4 to 29.7. (The budget lists the specific slots, which are consistent with what we’ve reported earlier.)

“Accelerated release of designations” as I understand it means that various funds formerly designated for numerous specific purposes are being folded into the general budget, and this process is being speeded up.

“Members increasing participation” means programs are to be operated by volunteers rather than paid staff. The PYM Library is one such enterprise.

While internal lobbies like the YAFs, and some dissidents in the Support & Outreach Standing Committee (SOSC), would like to stave off these cuts, the odds for that look slim. The only thing approaching a specific alternative was part of an “observation” in the SOSC that

letting a great endowment sit fallow while we lose staff and programs essential to the survival and growth of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting betrays the trust of the Friends of an earlier time who wanted us to preserve and grow our kind of Quakerism.

What this implicitly calls for, but does not say straight out, is a kind of “stimulus plan” deficit spending. The yearly meeting could liquidate some endowments or other assets (property? buildings?) to close the gap and retain the targeted staff — and presumably look to a future economic turnaround (and a great increase on donation income to the Annual Fund and from Meetings) to regain the capital thus lost. It might even work; but it’s a gamble. And 320 years of Quaker thrift are against such an idea.

anthonyquinn[Flashback: In 1968 a popular movie, “The Shoes of the Fisherman,” starred Anthony Quinn as a newly-elected pope, who dramatically announces that he will sell many Vatican treasures to relieve a famine which threatens to erupt in a world war. However, the film was not shot in Philadelphia.]

Otherwise, unless the YAFs and the SOSCers come into the Interim Meeting session Saturday bearing not only clever buttons on their lapels, but a million bucks or so up their sleeves, it’s hard to see how they can stave off the planned cuts. There’s sure to be much wailing, wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth and, in the extremity, creation of new committees; but not much more.

How did it come to this? A look back shows that such a reckoning has been simmering for awhile. Let’s peer into the reverse telescope of deja vu . . .

In 1999, PYM urged its Meetings to agree to increase their “covenant” pledges to the central body by ten per cent, which was a big jump. I was then a resident member of a PYM Monthly Meeting, one out on the edges of its territory. We were told that the “tax increase” was needed because of the widespread clamor for more PYM services to Meetings. Not having heard any such clamor in my Meeting, or echoes of it in visits to others, I undertook a detailed study of the data offered as evidence of the demand, and the associated budget figures. It was an excellent learning experience. The resulting analysis was uploaded to the web, where it still lingers twelve years later, under the title, “Too Far to Burgville.”

The first discovery was that the alleged “clamor” for more PYM services was in fact imaginary and trumped up, much more about a Friends Center wish list than anything else. Beyond that, it showed that the PYM central operation was a bark that floated largely on a sea of DQM, or Dead Quakers’ Money. Three quarters of the actual 1999 budget of almost $6 million came from endowments and fees; actual donations from Living Quakers came to $1,408,000. And the staff came to 40.4 FTEs (Full Time equivalents).

That last number was a shocker. Because in the 2012 budget data, it states that the current staff total comes to (drum roll) 40.4. It’s stayed right around that number all through the intervening years. For most of those years, when the bubbles were booming, it’s not a surprise; the DQM was rolling in. But how many nonprofits could show comparable staff stability, considering that we’re three years into the continuing crash? (See, Service Committee, American Friends, upstairs.)

And more than the staff total has stayed flat. Between 1999 and 2010 the total income from the Annual Fund and Meeting “Covenants” increased from $1,408,000 to $1721,440; that’s a $313,000 increase — except that adjusted for inflation, its actual value is flat or even down a bit. I interpret this as a statement that the “clamor” from actual PYM Friends for more services from PYM is no more in evidence today than it was eleven years ago; because real “clamor” is built on what living people are prepared to pay for.

The difference is that the DQM is down from something like three-quarters of the income in 1999 to a little of 50 per cent in 2010.

The Financial Stewardship Committee sent with the budget a March 24 minute which urged, in part,

That the Yearly Meeting begin a process of discernment with its meetings and members to forge a new vision for the Yearly Meeting and the work of its staff, within the context of the Yearly Meeting’s financial capacity.

The Committee Clerk called for this proposal to “be adopted and executed immediately.”

Talk of “a new vision” really brings on the nostalgia. Where have I heard such talk before? Something like, PYM should move to identify

those services which its meetings actually do want and need from the center. I predict that such a reliable analysis would produce a list that was vastly different, and likely considerably shorter, than the current roster. Then PYM could renew its effort to restructure itself for more effective and economical service.

Oh yeah– that was me, in 1999.

Oh well, whatever. That was a different century; even a different millennium. And there’s doubtless been many similar refrains since. But this time, a million bucks says that, barring some kind of earthquake on Arch street, a dozen or so PYM staffers will be moving on sooner than they planned. After that, stay tuned.

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